Faculty on Point | Ralph Richard Banks on Racial Justice Beyond Constitutional Law
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Faculty on Point | Ralph Richard Banks on Racial Justice Beyond Constitutional Law

October 10, 2019


[MUSIC] My current project is
to produce a case book, Racial Justice and Law. And
the goal of that is to provide what students haven’t had
before, which is a resource that canvasses issues of
racial justice across a variety of domains. One of
the important goals of this case book, and of my teaching
and writing otherwise, is to broaden the focus beyond
constitutional law. We’re at an, at an odd place because
we have, widespread support, for ideals of, of racial
justice and color-blindness. Yet, we still have a society
that is very much structured along lines of race.
We have gross disparities in criminal justice in terms
of incarceration as well as victimization. We have
substantial disparities in education, in terms of
college completion, in terms of income, in terms
of health, as well. And those are disparities that
shape our society and that shape our psychology as
well, in how we interact. What’s different now though,
is that even when people express what one might
consider, racist views, they’re usually veiled.
And that’s, that’s a bad thing that those
views are expressed, you know, indirectly or covertly. But it actually is a sign
of progress that people can’t say openly things
that a century ago or even half a century ago, would have
been a normal part of public debate. Relationships between
the African American community on one hand, and the law
enforcement officers on the other, are fraught today
in part because of the past. There’s a long history of, of conflicts that have arisen
at the intersection of race, crime, and law enforcement.
And those historical conflicts inform people’s views
of current events. From criminal justice to education,
to employment, to housing. These are areas where race is
a central line of division. And there’s a need to
examine racial issues as a way of understanding
more generally, how legal institutions operate. In the
decades since those landmark civil rights acts, I think,
many would agree that we haven’t made the progress
we would have expected. We are a society that is still
beset by substantial racial segregation in housing,
by racially segregated and unequal schools. Our society
incarcerates more people than any other Democratic
nation in the world, and by a large margin. These are
problems that affect not only particular groups, they are
problems that really imperil the health of our
democracy and the health of our society. And
until we solve those problems, we will not be able
to fulfill the ideals that prompted the founding
of the nation. I think that faith that undergirds any
academic institution is that ideas matter. That is
important to try to understand what’s going on in society.
It’s important for lawyers and law professors to figure out
how we can do things better, how we can better govern
ourselves. So one way that scholarship can produce
change is by producing ideas. Ideas alone often are not
enough. In order for ideas to actually produce
change in the world, in some cases we need to put
resources behind those ideas. To find ways to empower
people to go out and enact some of those
ideas in the world. Students didn’t understand
that, that law is, is ultimately about solving
problems. Legal rules don’t exist apart from a society
in which they developed. And they should understand
that law is a tool. And it’s a tool
that we can use and it’s a tool that we can
evaluate when others use it. [MUSIC]

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